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How are arrested pirates judged? The point… (Shift4) Exclusive

(BRUSSELS2) Suspects of acts of piracy arrested by international or local forces in the Indian Ocean remain judged very unequally by most courts. Here is one last detailed point, which may be updated later…

Latest developments

 Since the last report (March), the first judgments have fallen in Yemen. And a first trial has started in Europe (Netherlands) while the investigation is closed in the Ponant affair (France).

We can notice that a new country has agreed to translate pirates, Germany. And the United States agreed to take a new “batch” of pirates. But it is Kenya and Somali Puntland which bear the majority of prisoners.

In total, according to my sources, 221 pirates have already been convicted in 2009 and 2010, most of them in Puntland and Somaliland. In these autonomous provinces of Somalia, judgments often remain rapid, if not expeditious. Trials are slower in Yemen and Kenya, or even downright slow in Western countries.

Note that the European Union did not consider it necessary to adopt harmonized legislation!

Summary of pirates transferred

Country Transferred suspects * Convicted Pirates** Suspects released ***
puntland (somalia) 98 154 2
Somaliland (Somalia) 9 27
Kenya 134 18
Yemen 51 22
Seychelles 53 0 23
France 15 0
Netherlands   5 5
United States 12 0
Spain 2 0
Germany 10 0

* Pirates transferred by international forces. Added to this are the pirates arrested by local forces

** Convicted pirates: after judgment (final or not).

*** Pirates released: these are suspects released by decision of an investigating judge or the headquarters (after surrender by international forces or local coast guards)

Disclaimer: These numbers are as accurate as possible. But I am not immune to error, as judicial data in this area is sometimes difficult to cross-check.

Country by country details

Legend: o release • = Case in progress • • = Judgment





• In April 2009, 10 Somali pirates were sentenced to 7 years in prison and their sentence upheld by a High Court judge for the onmouseout=”_tipoff()”> attackSafina Al Bisarat-MNV 723 in January 2006 (read a judgment which will set a precedent?). On this date, 87
prisoners were incarcerated in Kenya, including 77 awaiting trial in 7 different cases (read here). As of June 10, 2009, this total figure was 111 suspects.

• The trial of 7 pirates who attacked the German frigate by mistake Spessart (EUNAVFOR Atalanta) started in Mombasa in the fall of 2009. Trial punctuated by procedural incidents. Read: The trial of the 7 pirates arrested by the Spessart continues

• The trial of the 7 pirates arrested by the Vella Gulf (Usa) after the attack on MV Polaris started at the beginning of October 2009 before the 4th branch of the Central Court of Mombasa. But not without difficulty for the American soldiers (read the story of Pierre Prier from Figaro). A hearing has been set for January 26, 2010.

• The judgment of the pirates who attacked the Breton tuna boat Cape St. Vincent starts in 2010. Read: the hearing of the 7 pirates who attacked Cape St Vincent set for 2010

• On March 8, 2010, the Tribunal of Mombasa condemned 8 pirates who had attacked, in November 2008, the Danish ship MV Powerful, to 20 years in prison. They had been stopped by the British frigate Cumberland after the attack on a Danish cargo ship. Their lawyers appealed.

Puntland (Somalia)


• In April 2009, 37 Somali pirates were sentenced, during a collective trial, to 3 years in prison.

• On October 17, 2009, 10 pirates were sentenced to 3 to 5 years in prison (including the pirates who had attacked the ship
french military BCR Sum). NB: According to the Puntland authorities, more than 120 judgments against pirates have been pronounced since January 2009.

• On October 25, 2009, 12 pirates were sentenced to 3 to 8 years in prison by the Court of First Instance of Bossaso (including those who had been handed over to local authorities by the Egyptian government).

• On March 20, 2010, 22 hackers arrested by the French frigate were sentenced to 5 years in prison. 2 were released for lack of evidence.

NB: According to the Puntland authorities, more than 154 pirates have been convicted since January 2009.

Somaliland (Somalia)


• In February 2009, 7 pirates, arrested by the coastguard near Berbera, were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

• On April 26, 2009, 9 pirates were sentenced to sentences of 15 years in prison (for 7 of them) to 20 years in prison (for the other 2). They were arrested on April 18 by the Somaliland coast guard after the attack on Handytankers Magic and their release by NATO forces.

• In mid-February 2010, 11 pirates, arrested in December 2009, were sentenced to 15 years in prison in Berbera. They had been arrested by the Somaliland Coast Guard after their release by NATO forces and the attack (by mistake) of a warship.



o At the beginning of September 2009, 23 suspects detained in the archipelago's prisons – including those who attacked the cruise ship MSC Melody – were released and flown back to Kenya and then to Somalia (Homecoming for 23 pirates detained by Seychelles, details (update 2) )



• In December 2008, 11 of 23 suspects arrested by an Indian frigate were quickly released after a short investigation. According to the Yemeni judicial authorities, they were not pirates but Yemeni fishermen taken hostage. The trial of the remaining 12 suspects (the Somali pirates) began in the Aden Magistrate's Court in July 2009, along with 10 other pirates arrested by a Russian frigate in February.

• In December 2009, the trial of 6 pirates accused of attacking a Yemeni boat and arrested by Yemeni forces began in Aden. One of them was released.

• On March 8, 2010, the trial of 7 suspects, accused of attacking foreign boats in territorial waters and international waters, began before the special criminal court of Hadramout.

• On May 18, 2010, 6 pirates were sentenced to death and 6 others to 10 years in prison for the attack on a Yemeni oil tanker, the Qana (read: Six pirates sentenced to death at Yemen)

• On May 19, 2010, the Aden Court of First Instance sentenced the 10 pirates arrested by a Russian frigate in February 2009 to 10 years in prison. The trial began in July 2009.




Awaiting trial


• Six pirates arrested after hostage-taking on Ponant were imprisoned in April 2008 upon their arrival in Paris. Aged 21 to 46, they were indicted by investigating judges, Patrick Gachon and Corinne Goetzmann, for “hijacking, organized gang arrest and kidnapping with demand for ransom, criminal association, organized gang thefts“. They are detained in Fresnes prison. The National Defense Secret Advisory Commission authorized, on February 5, 2009, the declassification of the film made by the Ministry of Defense on the arrest (Also read: Ponant: complaint against X for arbitrary detention). On April 6, 2009, the Paris Court of Appeal rejected their lawyers' requests for annulment of proceedings, finding that the French military intervention was “founded”. The public prosecutor's office maintained that the arrest and transfer constituted “defense operations” that the justice system did not have to deal with. The investigating judge closed the investigation at the end of March 2010.

• Three pirates arrested after hostage-taking on Tanit were taken into police custody on Tuesday April 14, 2009 and imprisoned. The public prosecutor's office in Rennes (Brittany) took over the case and the investigation was entrusted to the gendarmerie.

• Six pirates arrested after the release of the Square ace were indicted in Paris on September 25, 2009. They are being prosecuted for ship hijacking, arrest and sequestration of several people as hostages with a view to obtaining a ransom, theft and receiving stolen property.



Awaiting trial


• Two pirates were brought back to Spain in early October 2009 after their arrest by a Spanish frigate on the orders of Judge Garzon (The transfer to Spain of the arrested pirates requested by a court). Abdu Willy and Raageggesey Adji Haman were charged on November 16, 2009 with 36 offenses of illegal detention and theft with violence and use of weapons and referred for trial to the Audienca Nacional in Madrid. Several tests were necessary to establish Willy's age.



Trial completed


• Arrested by the Danes (frigate Absalom) after the attack on a Dutch cargo ship, the Samanyulo, five Somalis (Ahmed Yusuf) were transferred to the Netherlands after an arrest warrant was issued on January 21, 2009, by a Dutch judge. They have been incarcerated since February 10, 2009. Their pre-trial detention was successively extended on May 18 and August 12, 2009 by the Rotterdam court. The trial began on May 25, 2010. The prosecutor requested 7 years in prison based on a law dating from the 17th century. The Rotterdam court sentenced them, on June 2010, XNUMX, to 5 years in prison.

Awaiting trial


• Ten pirates who had taken control of the merchant ship on MV Taipan, flying the German flag were arrested in flagrante delicto on 5
April, by the Dutch frigate Hr Ms Tromp, and repatriated via Djibouti to the Netherlands (Read: Ten pirates transferred to Germany via Djibouti and the Netherlands). They are awaiting their transfer to Germany. A Dutch court accepted the transfer on June 4, 2010.


United States

Awaiting trial


PirateMuseTribunalManhanttan-Ap090920.jpg• A Somali, sole survivor after the failed capture of the Maersk Alabama, was imprisoned in the United States on April 20, 2009. Accused of piracy and kidnapping, Abdiweli Abdilkadur Muse pleaded not guilty before the federal court in Manhattan (New York). His lawyers also argue that he is a minor. A judge, however, ruled that he was indeed 18 years old. The hearings were postponed until January 2010 to allow the translation of all the documents in the file. He was also charged on January 13 with acts of piracy against other boats. (photo: AP)

• Eleven Somalis suspected of piracy and arrested, in flagrante delicto, in the Indian Ocean by two American navy ships, the USS Nicholas and theUSS Ashland, respectively on March 31 and April 10, 2010 were transferred to the United States. They were charged on April 23, 2010

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(Read : The 11 Somali pirates brought to the United States are charged)

(first update: April 2009, last update = June 17, 2010)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).